How low can we go?
It might just be a lunar thing. Or at least, a mid bleakwinter association. But I’m feeling low.
Events too have conspired to contribute to my mood.
I have purposely avoided the broadcast media coverage of the horrific events at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown in Connecticut. I could not bear the way microphones were being thrust into people’s faces, especially traumatised children’s faces, seeking the instant reaction and the right package to keep the news rolling. On an issue like this – in my view – the printed press beats broadcast hands down. Yes, there’s some sensationalist front page coverage but also distant, respectful and considered analysis and presentation of the facts.
Which we must all force ourselves to read and to debate. In a timely move, Kenny MacAskill, the Justice Secretary, has announced moves to curb the availability of air guns by licensing him. It will take a brave vested interest in light of events in Newtown to oppose this move.
Alongside the debate on gun ownership, surely we must also consider more fully the role violence plays in our lives. It has an all pervasive presence in the world of entertainment. At this point, I admit that both my boys had plastic replica gun tat. The wee chicklet in fact has an arsenal. I temper my hypocrisy by only buying him wooden stuff from museums – viking axes, shields and the like. And gave up trying to prevent the inlaws and outlaws buying blasters and the like. But it’s there all the same. And I vainly temper my hypocrisy and guilt by encouraging other influences in his life.
And when he and his pals are not on recces out in the garden and nearby streets, he can be found setting out huge war scenarios using plastic soldiers and equipment, some of it even inherited from his brother. There is a real joy to be had in watching him at this kind of play. It is meticulous. It takes over the house. I find soldiers in position in plants, on the stairs, perched on the TV, hiding below books and on top of speakers. There is very little role play of actual fighting, it is all in the set up and the planning. But still….
Even if I banned and binned the lot, I’d struggle to keep him free from violence. Not when even the age-appropriate video games involve bashing up opponents and beating them by fair means and foul. When many of the programmes on children’s TV involve humiliating friends at schools or cheating on your team mates. And when movies, even at PG level, offer wrecks, chases and action, albeit often of the animated type.
We have created a childhood for our children that is brimful of adrenalin, which encourages a dog eat dog mentality, with little room for kindness, empathy and inclusion. And all of it has to have as much bearing on the adults they become as the availability of weapons and indeed, the influence (benign or otherwise) of adults.
What kind of world do we want to live in? What do we want to gift our children? And what role does Scotland want to play in any or all of it?
These are the kind of questions that should surely be at the heart of the national conversation on our constitutional future.
Yet, last night, when all over the world, people were using twitter and other social media to show solidarity with the pain and suffering of bereaved families and a bewildered small, rural American community, there were the Yes and No camp frontlines. So far buried in their own navel that even a tragedy of this size cannot tempt them from their self-absorption.
Who cares who said what to whom about the EU frankly. Who cares if the Depute First Minister was on the back foot or the front foot on this issue. The battle for our hearts and minds is currently being fought out as a point scoring exercise. It is like playing a game of Scrabble with all contestants tallying their double and triple word scores at the end of the day and determining from the total whether they need to enter the fray the next day by thrusting or parrying.
The current tactics of both camps are built around the worst kind of politics where name-calling, petty insults, finger-pointing, belittling and verbal spats are seen as an acceptable way to conduct the discourse. It is appalling.
And for some to suggest that just because 20 children and several adults lost their lives in the worst way imaginable means nothing to Scotland and that it’s fine to carry on as before turns my stomach. Didn’t Scotland welcome the sympathy and tenderness expressed from some very surprising places when the terrible events of Dunblane occurred in 1996? The eyes of the world were on us then too and the global community was keen to offer a handshake and a hug of comfort when we were struggling to come to terms with what had happened in our midst. At the very least, we should return the favour. Or have we lost all ability to work out what matters in our lives and in others?
It would appear that winning the game and the prize has become the all for too many protagonists in both camps. And the purpose of what constitutional change might be about has been cast aside. And if this is what people are like now, if this is as low as we can go now, what hope is there for the future?
This inability of Scotland’s body politic to treat politics as more than a game was exposed in cruel reality with the publication of an Audit Scotland report this week that showed despite record investment in health and in the face of commitments – by both our major parties – in recent years to tackle health inequalities, we have failed. We have and are failing utterly to turn around the lives of those in our midst who need our support and action most.
And if we think things are low now for the most vulnerable in our society, they are about to get a whole lot lower when welfare reform comes to town and its measures start to bite. Not just the poorest, but the wee bit poor, the nearly poor and thought they were no longer poor too. Do our politicians have any answers or solutions to offer? Who knows, for anyone who does cannot be heard above the din and clatter of our daily political and constitutional diet.
There are good people out there working away at crafting policy and practice which aims to change people’s lives. But they are scarcely noticed. And they are seen as an irritant and an inconvenient aside to the main course of politics served up daily by our leaders and their followers.
A diet which does not care whether children have been gunned to death. Which does not pause to consider whether it might happen here – again. Which ignores the big issues which affect the ability of our people to live decent lives. And which prefers to use the misery of others only when it suits their own arguments.
It is politics of the lowest form. And I fear it will get lower still.